Public service industry overview

With public service comes great responsibility… and great conditions.
Erin Delaney
Team GradAustralia
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A career in public service has come a long way from the paper-pushing, gold-watch retirement of days gone by. You can work at community, state, national and even international levels in roles spanning the most exciting of projects — from creating and enforcing child protection policy, to national security and defence.

Grads that are most suited to this kind of work are usually empathic people with a strong sense of community, who want to be part of the greater good.

Competition for jobs can be high due to public service careers being secure, offering excellent work/life balance (shorter hours, flexible working arrangements, job sharing), paying high salaries and providing opportunities for structured career breaks.

As the government acclimatises to the digital landscape, recruitment needs are changing alongside this — particularly in customer-facing departments. One highly successful digitisation of an agency’s work includes Medicare’s relatively new online services, which have now almost completely replaced face-to-face general transactions. This is happening across the board, with each government portfolio investing in digital to move toward a model of customer self-service, enabling internal resources to be utilised more effectively, services to be rendered instantaneously and providing better taxpayer value overall.

The average entry-level package is $65,000 and the average industry hours are 37.5 per week, making this one of the best-value industries at an average of $37 an hour.

GradAustralia Public service sector overview for graduates

Job market outlook

Growth across public service jobs is mixed according to profession and department, but is expected to climb strongly overall.

Data on job outlook is difficult to source for this industry as each individual department, agency and council’s projections looks different throughout the year as expenditure waxes and wanes, according to changing policies and budgets.

The key factor we’re looking at is graduate roles, and these programs remain very consistent across intake numbers. There is a high number of opportunities for talented grads.

How to get hired

Applications for a public service role are more involved than a lot of other industries, so it’s best to get started early and give yourself plenty of time to flesh out your application. Most roles require a current CV and tailored cover letter, and most importantly they will also ask for a selection criteria statement: each hiring manager identifies the selection criteria for the role in advance, which candidates write a short personal statement against. This ensures that the government can prove they hired the best possible candidate for the role according to predetermined criteria without prejudice, should any member of the public question the decision or hold them accountable for an eventual outcome of that hire. Your interview will likely involve a panel of at least two people, for similar reasons.

It’s important to understand the process used to assess selection criteria statements in order to put your best foot possible forward. Most government recruitment panels use the STAR method, which is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result.

Displaying your understanding of the micro and macro objectives of the role and department will give you an edge over other less well-prepared candidates, and don’t be afraid to ask questions — this will demonstrate your keen interest in the work.

Key skills you need

Team-oriented

Government roles involve working with and being accountable to stakeholders at every point, including members of the public. Being a team player will see you getting more done as you bring stakeholders along with you to achieve your objectives. Moving projects from concept to fruition in government usually requires consensus and approvals, usually from a director or steering committee (for higher-value projects).

Patience

It can take a very long time from initial discussions about a project to seeing it completed, so a patient disposition will do far better in government than someone that is keen to see results immediately.

Ethics

As all funding for government comes from taxpayers, there is a heavy onus on personal and departmental accountability. Government departments must keep long paper trails on all activity, as it is very easy to land yourself in hot water for misuse of funds, equipment and access to information.

Alternatives to public service

If you’re considering public service, you might also like to consider…

  • Education and training 
  • Health 
  • Charity and social work